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Digital Differences to Consider When Planning Your Public Outreach Strategy

The Long and the Short of Mobile Apps image by Elmarieport via Flickr

There are myriad ways to reach citizens in this day and age. Weighing the options of connecting with citizens through mobile apps or web sites, which should we choose in 2012? Has it ever occurred to you that your target audience might not be using the Internet, or may be more prone to access it  in other ways than simply with their PC? Communicating online via your project website is a great first step to broadening your reach and organizing your public outreach efforts. However, it is also important to consider other methods now gaining traction to help you reach out to citizens in alternate ways to engage the citizens of your community in the planning process.

There are myriad ways to reach citizens in this day and age. Weighing the options of connecting with citizens through mobile apps or web sites, which should we choose in 2012? Has it ever occurred to you that your target audience might not be using the Internet, or may be more prone to access it  in other ways than simply with their PC? Communicating online via your project website is a great first step to broadening your reach and organizing your public outreach efforts. However, it is also important to consider other methods now gaining traction to help you reach out to citizens in alternate ways to engage the citizens of your community in the planning process.

According to the recent “Digital Differences” report from the Pew Internet Project, differences in Internet access still exist among demographic groups, especially when it comes to access to high-speed broadband in the home. In fact, among adults who do not use the Internet, almost half say that the main reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the Internet is relevant to them. This may initially seem discouraging at first sight, but we found some interesting highlights in the report that offered up some insights that are highly motivating when thinking about how to engage the members of our communities on important planning issues.  Here are some more intriguing findings from the report:

Participating on the Web Without a PC
Though overall Internet adoption rates have leveled off, the ways in which people connect online are much more varied than in the year 2000 when Pew conducted its first study; Internet access is definitely no longer synonymous with going online with a desktop computer! 

Social Networking Still Dominating the Public’s Internet Use 
Email and search are today’s most common Internet activities, but other activities are becoming pervasive as well. Using social networking sites, a pursuit once dominated by young adults, is now done by 65% of Internet users— representing a majority of the total adult population. For other core online activities, which also include online shopping and banking, the main gaps in use are related to age, educational attainment, and household income.

Mobile Access On the Rise 
Currently, 88% of American adults have a cell phone, 57% have a laptop, 19% own an e-book reader, and 19% have a tablet computer. About six in ten adults go online wirelessly with one of those devices. It is indeed the rise of mobile that has been the game changer. Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide are using wireless connections to jump on the Internet. Among smartphone owners, minorities, young adults, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to report that that their phone is their number one source of Internet access.

You can read the full report to learn how the Internet in American life has changed since 2000.


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